ATCs en masse – an experiment

Artist Trading Cards, usually abbreviated ATCs, are 3.5″ x 2.5″ pieces of art, more often traded than sold (hence the name). I first discovered ATCs through my interest in mail art, but didn’t start trading them until I joined Swap-bot, an online, mostly arts’n’crafts trading site. I usually create them as small individual drawings. Then I decided to try something different: ATCs en masse, or creating a bunch of small pieces of art from one larger one. This isn’t a new idea, just one I’ve never tried before.

I started by drawing one big zentangle on a normal 9.75×12″ piece of sketchbook paper. I used a black Koh-I-Noor pen because that’s what I had on hand. That took an extremely long time. Like, many hours. Zentangles are, by their very nature, extremely detailed. But, as their name implies, it can also be somewhat relaxing. This was my first one, and perhaps I was a little overambitious. They say that one cannot fail to make a zentangle, and that it is what it is, but I’ve never been much of a repetitive pattern doodler – I’m not really that type of person. So this was an interesting experience for me, concentrating on pattern and abstraction rather than copying something from life or a photograph. I’m not sure if zentangles are supposed to look quite so…psychadelic, but mine sure does.

Monster zentangle

As this is a trading card, it has to be reasonably stiff: no drawing on a cut-up index card and claiming it’s an ATC. Mine tend to be extra thick because I usually start with a plastic Neopets trading card, put something pretty on the back, put white paper on the front, and then put my art on top of the white paper. The white paper is the ATC’s undershirt: if I leave it off, the original card image shows through the drawing.

To some people, the back of the ATC is half the art, but I don’t see it that way. I like the backing to be somewhat nice, but if it’s just white (or white paper with colored pencil shading), that’s fine too. Recently I acquired a NASA planner from 2009 as a freebie somewhere, so I used a few of the nifty galaxy and nebula photos for my ATC backs. The back also generally includes all the information about the card. I haven’t found any official rules about what to include (indeed, the only “official” rule is the size), but generally I write “Artist Trading Card” at the top, then my name (well, melydia, anyway) and the date and usually my URL. If the art has a title, I’ll put that. If it’s for a swap, I’ll put the swap name. That’s about it. I haven’t quite figured out what an “artist’s signature” is, as I always sign the image on the front of the card.

The card backs attached to the zentangle. I didn't worry too much about "right side up".

The cards' placement on the zentangle.

I decided to add just a little bit of color to the fronts, if only to differentiate them a little bit more. Since the design was already very busy, I used the palest colored pencils I own – Earth Colors Memory Pencils – and used two colors per card. I restricted myself like that because I have a tendency to want to use every single color available to me. I didn’t want these cards to be nauseating.

Anyway, after a bit of coloring they’re ready to go:

The final ATCs

I have mixed feelings about this experiment. I think if I were more comfortable with abstract art I could make some really great ATCs this way. I found making the huge zentangle to be frankly tedious. Maybe I’d enjoy it more with a smaller canvas, like a postcard. Another possibility is to make a big collage and then cut it into cards, but that doesn’t really interest me. As much as I enjoy gluebooking, outright collage is unpleasantly difficult for me.

I’m thinking of bringing these as party favors to an upcoming Swap-bot meet’n’greet. I hope ten people show, or I’ll have no idea what to do with the others.

End note: my husband was very disappointed that I cut up the zentangle without scanning it properly. I hadn’t realized he was such a fan of that sort of art. Huh.

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